Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mama Bear

Last weekend Steve and I hired a sitter (two sitters actually) and went to a movie. We saw Blindside. If you have not seen this movie, I highly suggest it. It is very inspirational and sheds a little light into the lives of many children in this country. Of course, you find yourself rooting for the kid, Michael, to make it out of the ghetto gang infested situation that he was born into. But more than that, you also find yourself rooting for the mom to overcome all that is "proper and right" with her own little self-righteous world to help this kid. Upon leaving the movie I felt a sense of pride knowing that at one point, I was that mom in the school system.

As many of you know, I was a principal in an inner city school in Chicago. When I say inner-city, that is truly what I mean. We had a crack house a few doors down from us. When I went into any store near my school, I was always the only white person there; let alone female. Leaving at night was scary. Being there on the weekends was even scarier. It was a good school in very rough area. Drug dealers hung out at the store across the street. We had off duty police officers as security on staff. The funny thing is, we never had any problems inside our school building. Outside was a different story.

When those kids were in our school, they were safe. Even the gang members were safe from each other. We made sure of that. We had zero tolerance for smack talk, showing colors, signs and foul language. Our kids knew that our school was a place for a full meal and a warm classroom.

We were a charter school so that means we were a school of choice. We had kids from all over Chicago attending our school. We did not have buses so many of these kids took the city bus or the train that stopped two blocks outside of our doors. Come hell or high water the kids came to school. School was better than being at home. Better yet, our school day was nine hours long so if they came early and stayed late the could have breakfast at school and a snack after school.

Now, you might be questioning how I fit in at this school. Well, I really didn't. I was the only white member of the administrative staff. I was among a small handful (one hand) of white teachers. I was called a lot of names by parents. Never by the kids. These kids knew I would protect them at all costs. I was hard on them, but I was fair. I remember one day I kept a girl after school for detention. I can't even remember what she did to deserve that now but I was adamant about keeping her after school despite her protests that she would not have a ride home. "I'll give you a ride home myself", I said. Wow. I had no idea. This girl's grandmother had died recently (most of the students lived with someone other than their parents). She told me she had been sent back to her mom's house to live. Hmm, how bad could that be, I thought. Bad. The house did not even look like someone could live in it. The windows were broken and boarded up. The weeds out front had taken over the shabby steps. The paint was peeling and the concrete was busted. There is no way she lives here, I thought. Yep, she did. I caught a glimpse of the inside of the house as she walked through the doors. I can't even think of a word to describe it. Later, I learned that her mother was an addict (hence, the reason she lived with her grandmother all those years). This was a case that was never sent to a social worker. It's not like she was sent to live with her grandmother by a judge. Her mother just took her there one day and never came back to get her. The night I dropped her off at her house, I cried. I cried for all of the other kids at that school that I knew were going through the same thing. I cried for all of the mothers that were so messed up on drugs that they didn't care whether their children were home or not. I cried because I got to go home to my warm house in my warm car and eat my warm food. I got to take a hot shower at night and sleep without the fear of my house being broken into or bugs crawling on my floor. My heart shattered for those kids.

At the time, Steve and I did not have kids. I poured my heart and soul into my job. I knew I was protected. My director, Robert, was a wonderful man an boss. He took care of each of these kids (all 800 of them) like they were his own. He was a big black man with hands as big as bear paws. (To get a visual, think Hagrid from Harry Potter.) I always felt safe inside those school walls with him there. I knew the kids felt safe too.

During my three year there I went to two funerals. They were not funerals of kids but of their parents. I am sure there were many more that I did not know about. I learned of these funerals from the few kids that would actually talk to me in the first few weeks of school. After the first few months, word got out that I had a bowl of candy on my desk. Kids would stop in my office between passing periods and grab a handful of candy. I always left my door open. Sometimes I would be in the hallway and come back to find the candy dish completely empty. No doubt someone just dumped the whole dish into their back pack. But these kids were hungry. If I needed to buy another $6 bag of candy, so what. I wanted to put fruit out there too but that would make it uncool for them to come into my office. And so the ritual went. Each day I would fill that candy dish and each day I would have students meander into my office. Eventually they would stay and talk. They would tell me about their lives, their dreams, their families, what they faced at home, on the streets, in their future. I just sat and listened. I let them cry. I cried for them and with them sometimes. To hear what they had already faced was heartbreaking.

They needed me and I needed them. I needed to make a difference to them. I think to some, I did. They trusted me enough to tell their stories. They trusted me enough to hug me in the hallway. They trusted me enough that they would ask if I needed help after school. Most of them did not want to go home.

I wish there was more that I could have done for them. I knew when I started my own family, that I could not be torn in two. I needed to devote my time to my own kids knowing that someday I might go back to a school like this. I protect my kids just as I did those kids at school. I am still the Mama Bear watching after her cubs. I only have two kids to protect now but whether it is two or 800, I will still protect them. I will strive to give them everything they need. I will always be there for them. I hope that someday I can go back to protecting those kids in schools that have no one else to protect them. I need to be needed by them. I need to be a safe place for them. I miss them.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Time Flies; Or Not

Time sure flies. As I sit here reading my last post published in January, I am struck with sheer awe of how many days have gone by since then. I can not say that I have been especially busy. I just seem to get pulled in different directions every day. There are so many things that I should be doing right now. (For instance, right now Camden is yelling at me from down stairs because he and Colin are playing outside and they "need" me. I am going to try to ignore them and see if that works. Nope, here he comes.... Okay he just needed some tape. Not sure why he needs tape outside but in order for me to get a minute to myself, I have now instructed him where the tape resides in our house. I am sure that I will pay for this later as a 4 year set loose with a roll of tape is never a good idea.) See how easily I get off track?

Since the last time I wrote on my blog, Colin has turned 6 years old. I just can not believe that he is six already. He no longer resembles a "toddler" in any way. He is tall and skinny. He usually has a beautiful grin on his face that tells me he loves life. It is so hard for me to let him be six. He's been riding a bike without training wheels for a few years now. He's starting to enjoy BMX biking and hangs from the monkey bars like none other. But he still wants me to take him to school and kiss him goodbye. He still wants me to (oh, here comes Cam up the stairs again... now he's crying about not wanting to play the wii which confuses me a little since he is playing out side.

And we're back. I tried my best to figure out why he was crying but I can not make any sense of it. Cam is currently in his room crying and I am going to finish this post before I deal with a crying boy.)

So, as I was saying, Colin still wants me to lay down beside him every night and tuck him in. He is still like a little boy in so many ways. Then there are times when I get the "Mom, just leave me alone" look. It 's hard to treat him like a little boy and like a big boy at the same time. I guess I have many more years of that to come.

Now a little about Camden's progress over the last few months. When that boy is happy, he is really really happy. When he is angry, he is really really angry. He is such a fun boy to be around. He giggles and laughs and plays tricks on you. But everything can turn on a dime. His fits have gotten fewer and farther between. I don't know if it because he is finally starting to outgrow them or if we have just learned to avoid/diffuse them better. Nonetheless, he is easier to handle and has turned out to be a very lovey kid. He gives hugs and kisses very freely to me and has to give Colin a hug everyday before he leaves for school. Colin tolerates it most days.

That's all the time I have for now. I had hoped to give a long summation of Jan., Feb. and March but now I hear the kids arguing outside. Free time is over.